The Vikings had a 20-0 shutout going until late in the 4th quarter, but were unable to keep the Lions out of the end zone on a 4th down play that was their only blemish defensively. They sealed the win with a late interception in the end zone and a 20-7 victory.
The Vikings were 13.5 point favorites going into the game, so it was a fairly expected, if also a somewhat low-energy, win. Perhaps after higher energy games against likely playoff teams in the Seahawks, Cowboys and Chiefs, and a big comeback against the Broncos, a fairly routine win over the Lions seemed to lack much drama. And maybe that’s ok.
Nothing wrong with a relatively easy win in which the Vikings never trailed, It would have felt better had the Vikings’ defense kept the shutout, or if the Vikings’ offense scored 35 instead of 20, but it was a game the Vikings pretty much controlled from beginning to end. But with a 17-0 lead at halftime, game circumstances dictated somewhat more conservative adjustments. Not necessarily exciting, but not necessarily stupid either against a team with 70 yards and no points on offense in the first half.
Vikings Defense Dominates
The Lions started a backup QB, something that’s given the Vikings defense trouble this season. But not this time. It helped that the Lions’ offense was also without starting running back Kerryon Johnson, and starting tight end TJ Hockenson.
It also helped that the Detroit Lions played like, well, the Detroit Lions in December: Playing out the string without much rally or thoughts of victory.
The Lions first ten drives: punt, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal, end of half, punt, punt, interception, punt.
Danielle Hunter had a nice game statistically - picking up 3 sacks - most of them on Lions QB David Blough for refusing to get rid of the ball.
Most, if not all, of the Vikings sacks were coverage sacks - which along with not allowing many passing yards before garbage time and 2 INTs - speaks to the performance of the Vikings secondary. Marvin Jones and Co. had a big game earlier in the season against the Vikings, but not this time. Neither Jones nor Kenny Golladay nor Danny Amendola had much of an impact in the game.
The Vikings defense completed their dominance by holding the Lions to only 70 yards rushing - and only 231 net yards total. That was the third lowest total on the season.
Vikings Offense Good Enough, If Not Great
Offensively, the Vikings did well to score 17 first half points before seemingly taking their foot off the gas and coasting to only 3 points in the second half. The Vikings offense began the second half with three punts - a 3 and out, 3 and out, and a 6 and out. The only points the offense scored in the 2nd half came off an interception leading to a 50 yard field goal after a 32 yard drive.
The Vikings offense has sputtered in the 3rd quarter in more than a few games this season, including the past two, which is a bit concerning. It speaks to coaching adjustments, and the Vikings either getting caught flat-flouted in response to defensive changes, and/or their own adjustments being ineffective.
After the game, Kirk Cousins mentioned that the Lions really varied their coverage, which made it difficult for him to get a good pre-snap read on what they were running on a given play. Having said that, he didn’t exactly struggle, going 24/30 for 242 yards, a TD, and a 111.4 passer rating. The offense added 120 yards on the ground - but only 3.1 yards per carry. 9 yards was the longest rushing attempt on the day for the Vikings.
It’s been awhile since Dalvin Cook has had a big game on the ground. He hasn’t had a 100 yard rushing game since the first Lions game this season - back in week seven. The last five games he’s averaged just 57 rushing yards per game and only 3.35 yards per carry. That contrasts with an average of 108 rushing yards, and 5.89 yards per carry, in the first five games of the season.
Getting Dalvin Cook and the Vikings running game going will be essential for a deep playoff run.
Getting Adam Thielen back may help, as it may lead to more 2-deep safety looks and more focus on stopping the Vikings passing game.
The Vikings move to 9-4 on the season, and maintain the 6th seed in the NFC postseason tournament. But for the Vikings to improve their playoff seeding, they’ll need to run the table - and hope the Packers lose another game. That’s the only way they can win the division and possibly get some home games in the postseason.
The Vikings are the only undefeated team in home games this season, so home games in the postseason make it a lot easier for a deep run.
But next up for the Vikings is their last road trip of the regular season, traveling to the renowned Dignity Health Sports Park to face the 5-8 Los Angeles Chargers, who were just eliminated from postseason contention, despite a nice win over the Jaguars on the road.
Being eliminated from the postseason is never good for team morale, but the Vikings will need to be careful not to look past the Chargers, who can be tough when they get it together, despite having basically no home field advantage.
The Packers also beat a 3-win team at home, looking less than dominant in beating the Redskins 20-15. They were 13 point favorites. They will host their last home game of the season next weekend against the Bears, who are attempting a late season comeback having won their last three games. This is the best chance for the Packers to lose another game, outside of the Vikings game, as their final opponent is the Lions.
A Vikings win and Packers loss next week could setup a division crown showdown December 23rd.
Normally a 12-4 record would seem pretty good for a first round bye, but in the NFC this year, it seems likely a team will need at least that and a tie-breaker. It may also take 11-5 to even make the playoffs. Unless you’re the NFC East division winner.
All that means the Vikings need to play their best football. Mike Zimmer said after this game that they haven’t yet, but are getting closer.
Time to step up.
The Vikings need to get hot if they’re gonna make much of a splash in the postseason. The win over the Lions was good, but there’s a lot more that needs to fall into place before the Vikings could be considered hot.